Years from now, when we look back on the COVID-19 pandemic, one area that will most certainly stand out will be the great work that companies have done to create connections and communities in the modern workplace. So great in fact, that I have a white board in my office that’s been completely filled with post-it notes of all the innovative and effective ways that this has been done.
These ideas have been born out of an urgent desire and need for connection and community. With so much uncertainty and fear in the world, these things can help in meaningful and powerful ways. And with statistics showing an increase in loneliness and mental illness, this is more important now than ever before.
Oliver Dowden, UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Coronavirus and social distancing has forced all of us to look loneliness in the eye. So recognising the signs and tackling the stigma has never been more important.”
To help you as you continue to develop ways to connect your workforce and build communities, let me share with you five of the key themes and trends:
Ramp up communications
One area that’s had a huge impact when it comes to connecting employees in the modern workplace is communications. In recent times, companies have really stepped up in this regard, tapping into existing communication vehicles and creating new ones to provide a lifeline between the organization and its workforce. Here are a few examples of what companies have done:
CEO blog – Companies have realized and seen the importance of having their CEO step up and communicate more frequently throughout the pandemic. Many have created a weekly blog where the CEO provides their first-hand thoughts, perspectives and information on what’s happening at the company.
Live Q&A sessions – Companies have found this to be useful in providing employees with the opportunity to raise their questions and concerns and have immediate responses.
Meet the executives – A company I interviewed recently added to their weekly virtual meetings. Executives shared pictures from their childhoods, including awkward teenage photos, and told stories of pivotal moments in their lives that made them who they were today. By doing this, it showed the human side of their executives, showing vulnerability, sharing stories and acting in a way to bring the team closer together.
A key part of communications is storytelling, something that many companies have leveraged as a way to connect their workforce to the business and to one another. Here are a few examples of what companies have done:
Post stories – In a previous HRD blog, I shared an example of a company who put in place a “happy monday” campaign as a vehicle for employees to share positive stories on their online communications portal to connect and support one another. Other companies have done this in similar ways, encouraging employees to post stories either in written format or in videos.
Online channels – Other companies have set up online channels (e.g. Slack), where employees can share stories on a continuous basis, having “drive-by” conversations.
Organize company-wide events
Companies have quickly embraced the new digital world, and have moved company-wide events online. From weekly briefings to quarterly or annual meetings, companies have found that it’s important to keep this aspect of ‘business-as-usual’ going to maintain connections and communities in the modern workplace. One of my favorite examples is a company who sent employees a voucher to order pizza for their annual meeting as a way to replicate the face-to-face experience.
And it’s not just meetings. Companies have truly put their innovation hats on when it comes to organizing fun, company-wide events. From chess lessons, to mindfulness sessions, to cooking or cocktail making classes, to magic shows, and even virtual murder mystery events, there certainly has been something for everyone.
The extra benefit of these events is that they’ve increased connections between employees, with them building relationships and interacting with new members of the team.
Organize company-wide competitions
Who doesn’t love a competition? This is exactly why many companies have used them as a way to connect and get their workforce involved. I’ve seen competitions for anything and everything, ranging from the best office, to the best pet, to even the best design to be used on posters explaining how to safely wash your hands.
And the great thing about these competitions is that many companies involved children, which gave their employees a way to connect with their children and their children to connect with their company. Anything from a children’s poetry competition, to designing a recognition eCard, to Easter crafts. Again, the sky was the limit with these competitions.
Companies have gone above and beyond to create networks, ways to create connections and all-important communities within their workforce. Many organizations did this before, but as in the other areas, they ramped it up to ensure that there were communities for a broader range of areas and topics.
One example is parenting networks, where parents can share their challenges and work together to share solutions. The key here, as in the other areas, has been to offer a variety of options that employees can connect with, allowing them to pick and choose what works best for them.
So as we move on, and as we continue to fight this battle, let me encourage you to continue to use the power of connections and communities to support your business and your people in the modern workplace. As author Helen Keller once said: “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”
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